“There is only one way to keep ourselves alive and that is to keep the earth alive!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
When crops and pastures replace native forest or paramo, the original wild habitat is not only reduced in size, it becomes fragmented. And when species can no longer move---occupying new spaces, responding to environmental changes, securing nutrients-they perish.
An agricultural frontier is the line that divides a domestic, managed landscape from the original and natural wild vegetation. In the mountainous region in which FCT works, these frontiers typically move upslope, progressively converting forest to cropland and pasture. Properties in our area thus encompass agricultural land at lower elevation, and forest and paramo grassland above. The native vegetation is seen by owners to be agricultural lands in-waiting.
A fundamental goal of FCT is to slow the advance of this frontier, which in turn allows the survival of the native habitat. An incentive-based tool kit is used by FCT to motivate property owners to conserve their pristine holdings. In 2014 FCT initiated a project, in the buffer zone of Sangay National Park, to introduce silvopastoral systems in agricultural areas. Four principle benefits are anticipated:
A mix of native species that included trees with edible leaves provides fodder for cattle in the adjoining pastures. This forage, properly managed, will allow a higher protein content to cows and thus an improved milk production, as well as maintain forage productivity during dry periods, when pasture grass growth is limited.
2. The root system of the trees helps retain soils on the typically steep slopes, and protects stream margins from erosion.
3. The forested lots with time will provide firewood for the property owner, an important benefit because the only other source of firewood is the native standing forest or patches of secondary forest, often at distance from the farmhouse.
4. Property owners are provided fencing to protect the young trees that are planted, in addition to a donation of the seedlings of native trees, plus labor to accomplish the planting. In exchange for these inputs, each owner signs a 'conservation agreement', in which they pledge to leave their forested holdings at higher elevation undisturbed. These are voluntary pledges, but we have seen that they are honored.
The original plan carried out by FCT was to establish woodlots in selected pasture areas and along water courses, ranging from rivulets to mountain streams. After the first two years of tree planting, we understood that the conservation benefits in most cases were much greater for the riverine plantings than for the hillside woodlots. So, beginning in 2016 and through our planting in 2019, we have· concentrated on riverine forestation. This has provided additional benefits both to the farmer and to the local ecology. For the farmer the forested corridors will stabilize stream banks, preventing soil loss during river surges. A concrete ecological benefit will be the restoration of the riverine habitat, as shade, leaf fall
and submerged trunks diversify the aquatic environment. Because the water courses being reforested originate in conserved native habitats (many within Sangay National Park), the linear woodlands serve as corridors for the movement of species and the restoration of diversity in the agricultural zone.
These activities have been supported by a number of granting institutions, including Overbrook Foundation, the Russel E. Train Education for Nature Program of the WWF, and the New England Biolabs Foundation. The regional hydroelectric company, CELEC Hidropaute (a government enterprise), which benefits from improved water quality generated by riverine forests, has contributed native trees from its community tree nurseries, and the park guard association, CUTIN, has contributed labor for plantings.
In the 5 years that FCT has carried forward its silvopastoral initiative, over 48,800 trees have been planted, using a broad range of species, including Canara (Erythrina edu/is), Aliso (A/nus acuminate), Tilo (Sambucus spp.), Nagai (Jug/ans neotropica), Mora (Rubus glaucus), Fresno (Fraxinum chinensis), Gafial (Oreocal/is grandiflora), Laurel de cera (Myrica pubescens), Acacia (Acacia sp.) and Mimosa (Mimosa quitensis). By April of 2019, 38 property owners participated in the various phases of planting that began in 2014, and many more have expressed their desire to participate in future phases.
The success of the silvopastoral initiative, and its underlying conservation logic, was noted by various governmental organizations, and in early 2017 CELEC-Hidropaute funded a large scale reforestation project along the lines of the FCT initiative. It has been managed by CUTIN, a local park-guard association, through the Paute watershed trust fund, FONAPA, with the goal of planting 100,000 trees in three years. The project ends late in 2019 and is expected to be renewed.